What the Federal Government is doing and what you can do yourself

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Disinformation What the Federal Government is doing and what you can do yourself

Targeted disinformation – as is disseminated before elections or about the war of aggression against Ukraine, for example – can fuel fears among sections of the population, reinforcing prejudices and insecurities. Read here what the Federal Government is doing to combat disinformation and what you can do yourself.

6 Min. Lesedauer

Disinformation based on the work screens

The spread of disinformation poses a threat to societies and democracies worldwide.

Foto: Getty Images/iStockphoto/metamorworks

Disinformation is now a global phenomenon – a major international challenge that concerns everyone. Whether deliberate half-truths, disinformation campaigns, conspiracy theories or propaganda, the sheer amount of disinformation has been on the increase for years now.

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is being waged online as well as on the ground

There has been an increase in the amount of disinformation connected with the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine.  Russian state media and accounts closely associated with the Kremlin on social media and other channels deliberately attempt to spread false or misleading information. Fake news sites and fake accounts ensure an even wider reach. The aim is to influence public debate in Germany and other countries. This poses a risk that the Federal Government is increasingly seeking to address. One important way of counteracting disinformation is for people to ensure that they themselves communicate in a fact-based and transparent manner.

What is the Federal Government doing to combat disinformation?

When it comes to the details of the disinformation and ensuring it is corrected, it is first and foremost up to the ministry responsible to take action. This applies when government action or members of government are directly affected. But it is also vital to take wide-ranging strategic measures to counteract disinformation and the risks it involves.

1. Expose and analyse disinformation 

The ministries and authorities continuously analyse the news within the scope of their responsibilities. The Federal Foreign Office (AA) focusses on disinformation as a targeted instrument used by foreign states. At the moment, for example, there is a lot of disinformation on the internet in German about the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. Here, the AA is in regular and close dialogue with international partners, both bilaterally and within the EU, the G7 and NATO.

Within the Federal Government, the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) coordinates the strategy for dealing with hybrid threats. This includes the manipulation of public opinion through online disinformation and propaganda, as well as other forms of illegitimate interference by foreign states. There are a wide range of current threats, including the possibility of attacks on critical infrastructure, cyberattacks, espionage and disinformation campaigns. These come from abroad, so Germany’s internal security agencies must to be involved in order to counter them. For this reason, the Federal Government has adopted the first ever National Security Strategy.

In combating disinformation, security authorities are also involved that fall within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of the Interior. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) collects and analyses information if it potentially poses a threat to our free democratic order. This also includes cyberoperations and propaganda activities pursued by other states. The majority of the information obtained by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution comes from open and publicly accessible sources, but the use of intelligence services is also vital when it comes to gathering information. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution describes current cases in its 2022 Annual Report on the Protection of the Constitution.

2. A coordinated and resolute response 

It is not only important to identify disinformation quickly. In order to stop it effectively, decisive and swift action is required. In terms of the war in Ukraine, the BMI plays a strategic coordination role within the Federal Government with regard to the current threat situation. The Ministry heads a taskforce which keeps a close eye on Russian disinformation, for example, and coordinates dialogue within the relevant ministries and authorities. This ensures that everyone within the Federal Government is informed and can react quickly and effectively when it comes to exposing and refuting disinformation. In specific cases and where there is an acute risk, the government must inform and warn the population about targeted disinformation. This also the responsibility of the Press and Information Office of the Federal Government. In connection with the flood disaster in the Ahr valley, for example, disinformation warnings were issued on the Federal Government website and on social media. 

In addition, the AA is also in close dialogue with its missions abroad concerning disinformation, and it passes on its findings within the Federal Government.

3. Combating the spread of disinformation

Disinformation and conspiracy myths are mainly shared via social media, so social media companies have a responsibility to take action against the spread of disinformation. The Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) requires them to process user complaints quickly, for example. On the part of the Federal Government, the Federal Ministry of Justice is responsible for legislation. At European level, and therefore also at national level, further regulations have been adopted in connection with the Digital Services Act. Here, the European Commission has established an even more rigorous code of conduct based on revised guidelines. Social media companies are to prevent people profiting from disinformation while at the same time providing more opportunities to report misleading or false content.

4. Exploring phenomena

In order to understand the spread of disinformation, it is important to be familiar with the relevant developments and understand the mechanisms behind them. Scientists are researching how disinformation spreads and which techniques are used, such as so-called deepfakes, i.e. falsified videos featuring politicians where a fake voice is superimposed. Projects of this nature are funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

5. Educating citizens and raising their awareness 

In some areas of life it is not possible to gain a first-hand impression of events yourself. This is why we depend on other people providing us with information, i.e. reporting by third parties. This applies to politics, too. For this reason, the Federal Government is seeking to boost media and news literacy throughout the entire population. The “Live Democracy!” programme run by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ) funds projects to educate people on how to deal with disinformation and conspiracy theories. The BMI is also involved, supporting initiatives that strengthen social solidarity. Other organisations particularly involved in boosting media and news literacy include the  Federal Agency for Civic Education and the Federal Commissioner for Culture and the Media.      

Test your news literacy!
“ News test – how good are you with online news?” was funded by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media in connection with a study on digital news literacy.

What can you do?

The good news is: each and every one of us can do something to stop disinformation. Critically question what a report says, check the sources, and if in doubt, don’t share it! Any dubious material should be reported to the authorities, especially illegal content and hate speech on social media. This way you can prevent others from being misinformed, which in some cases can have life-threatening consequences. Here you will find tips on how to identify disinformation.